Olga Tschechowa

Active - 1921 - 1964  |   Born - Apr 26, 1897 in Alexandropol, Russia  |   Died - Mar 9, 1980 in Munich, West Germany  |   Genres - Drama, Romance

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The "Grande Dame of German Film," blonde, dignified Olga Tschechowa (born Von Knipper) hailed from a family of painters, singers, and authors that included the famed Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, her uncle. A student of Konstantin Stanislavski, she was briefly married to her cousin, the actor Michael Chekhov, but her ambitions were not fulfilled until after escaping the Bolshevik revolution in favor of Berlin. Discovered by Ufa boss Eric Pommer, Tschechowa became a major international star in F.W. Murnau's Haunted Castle (1921; aka Schloss Vogelöd) and only cemented her status in the incredibly popular Die Drei von der Tankstelle (The Three From the Gas Station; 1930). The following year she did the German-language version of Malcolm St. Clair's The Boudoir Diplomat in Hollywood but preferred to work in Europe. Max Ophüls' early masterpiece Liebelei (1933), for which she earned the best reviews of her long career, was made shortly before the Nazis took over control of the German film industry and nothing would ever be the same again. Although apolitical and quite publicly expressing her fondness for American-style comedies and musicals, Tschechowa could not escape appearing in several of the so-called "Friedrich-Filme," heavy-handed sturm-und-drang melodramas glorifying 18th century Prussian ruler Frederick the Great and much beloved by the political hierarchy. She survived such less-than-savory screen assignments and the inevitable fall of the Third Reich and remained successful through the immediate postwar era -- where she augmented her fortune by establishing a cosmetic empire -- retiring solely "because I didn't want to spoil the illusion of all those people who admired me." A chance to work with her famous niece Vera Tschechowa led to an appearance in the 1971 television series Duell zu Dritt (Duel for Three) and renewed popularity with a postwar generation for whom she had become little more than a dim memory.

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